Avgeek Alert> When Airplanes Transport More than Just Passengers


Commercial aviation has certainly evolved enormously in its nearly 110 years of existence, to the point where today it’s not only the world’s safest mode of transportation but also the fastest and most reliable. That’s why commercial flights are also used in some instances to transport various types of goods, in stable, climate/controlled conditions, which are particularly time-sensitive. Three examples:

Airlifts During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Fortunately, the grim memories of the pandemic are beginning to fade, but it is worth remembering that during the worst of the health crisis there were moments when commercial flights performed an essential role in transporting vital supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, and protective clothing and goggles – products which almost overnight became essential to guarantee the health of much of the world’s population.

IAG Cargo, which counts Iberia among its partners, created a “health corridor” between China and Spain to transport millions of kilos of PPE, and these flights were also used to repatriate Spanish citizens who were living abroad at that time.

The other critical role during the pandemic was the transportation of vaccines, whose fragility was such that they needed to be kept at very low temperatures in order to preserve their viability. IAG Cargo was entrusted with this task thanks to its Constant Climate service, which allow vaccines to be kept at the required temperature through the use of refrigerated containers throughout the transportation process.

Transport of Medicines

Even beyond the pandemic, both before and after, the transport of drugs which require specific temperature conditions to not deteriorate is also often done by plane, such as various other types of vaccines and certain cancer drugs.

Transport of Organs for Transplantation

Many scheduled flights are also used for this work. Spain is a world leader in organ donation and transplant activity, and companies like Iberia contribute to this leadership in a selfless way. In fact, within the company’s Airbus A350 fleet, one of the latest additions (number 18 of this model) has been christened the “Organización Nacional de Trasplantes” after Spain´s National Transplantation Organisation, with which we´ve been collaborating for a decade now so that donate organs reach their destination on time and save lives. It goes without saying that these organs must be transported under optimum conditions to guarantee their viability at their destination – and they always travel in the pilot’s cabin – never in the passenger cabin or in the hold. In fact, it is usually the pilot who delivers it in person to the the ambulance waiting at the airport to transfer it to the hospital where the transplant will be performed.

Transport of Works of Art

Many artworks – particularly paintings – also require careful handling under climate-controlled conditions, so sealed containers transported by air with ideal, strictly regulated temperatures and humidity.

Actually, works of art do travel fairly often, as museums large and small commonly loan each other works for special exhibitions. If the distance between them isn´t too great, they can travel by specially adapted and insulated trucks. But quite often – say a museum in New York City wants to display a painting that´s in the Prado – it will need to be flown.

These pieces travel in special boxes created by experts in the transportation of works of art, isolated from sudden changes in temperature or humidity, as well as vibrations which could damage them.

There are also memorable occasions when a work does not travel to be part of a temporary collection, but to stay. That was the case of Pablo Picasso’s iconic painting  Guernica, transferred from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art to Madrid on September 10, 1981, as we described in a previous post, the aircraft which had this honour was the Boeing 747 christened Lope de Vega, and it became one of the milestones of Spanish aviation.